Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Iraq & Kurds on Lightning Offensive in ISIS Weak Spots

This war is a roller-coaster ride: ups-and-downs, victories and defeats. Today we get to focus on some good news.

ISIS seems to have weakened itself in some areas in order to launch offensives in others. According to CIA estimates it only has a few tens of thousands of troops (20-30k), and it's trying to fight over a vast territory. It's bound to have weak spots.

We also know that Iraq is much better at offensives than on the defense: being able to pound targets with artillery and US airstrikes and assault once they're "softened" is much easier than trying to hold out by standing around, waiting for a bunch of nearby cars to all blow up at once.

Iraqi Shiite militias are also about as tough as the Kurds, so in areas where Iraq can employ them (in the east), they also tend to have greater successes.

Such has been at the root of a recent decisive territorial gain by Iraq.


Iraq counter-attacked not in Ramadi to try to dislodge ISIS there, but in Baiji, north of Tikrit. In about a day they were able to move in and take the city center and refinery, and are now mopping up suburbs, engaged around the entire area. If it's anything like post-Tikrit, we should expect that whole area to be red in a week.

It sets the Iraqis up to be able to push north towards Mosul, which they may do next rather than getting too entangled in Anbar in their march to break the back of ISIS.

Kurdish Syria

Over the past two weeks the Kurds have been ripping across ISIS-held territory, liberating hundreds of villages. They're looking just weeks away from closing the gap in the north and linking up at Tall Abyad.

Some quick detail on the map, from left to right:
1) The Kobane forces--hardened, reinforced, and supported by US airstrikes--are pushing east after consolidating territory to the south. 
2) Forces from the east are pushing west to link up with them, though a bit more slowly. They're showing no signs of stopping right now.
3) After being bottled up for months at the Tall Tamer river crossing, the Kurds broke through and have liberated a densely-populated Kurdish population there, securing the west side of Hasakah.
4) We can see Kurdish forces have also broken through the river at Tall Brak, and are pushing south, likely to surround ISIS forces in Hasakah and secure the border crossing into Iraq from the other side.

If the Kurds are successful, they'll make their next push west, towards Manaj, and secure a line towards Aleppo. This would cover all heavily-Kurdish territory in the north, so the Kurds would slow down (or stop expanding entirely), but very good news will stem from their success:

1) It will stop the flow of fighters and arms coming from Turkey into Syria, so it will be harder for ISIS to refill its ranks and supplies in Syria.
2) It will mean the continued killing of ISIS troops.
3) It will make it harder for ISIS to reinforce Mosul--they'll be down to one highway in the desert (they won't be able to sneak north through more populated areas) so their supply trains will be highly vulnerable to airstrikes if they attempt reinforcement and resupply during the Iraqi/US assault.
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